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Therapists shower praise on 'Turning Red' and explain why parents should take note

Pixar's animated movie touches on various important subjects including periods, sexuality, crushes and adolescent rebellion.

Therapists shower praise on 'Turning Red' and explain why parents should take note
Image source: Turning Red/Pixar

"Turning Red," the latest animated movie from Pixar, is dividing opinions among adults and parents. The film has pushed the boundaries of storytelling as it touches on various subjects including periods, sexuality, crushes and adolescent rebellion. With animation films being viewed as catering to children, some parents are concerned but therapists are lauding the movie for potentially starting conversations on such topics that are largely considered taboo. "Turning Red" shows the main character, 13-year-old Mei Lee, go through adolescence and it's a refreshing change to see menstruation handled with such sensitivity while normalizing it as well. Menstruation is rarely discussed at home, so therapists believe this movie could be a conversation starter on the topic for kids. 

Turning Red/Pixar


Mei Lee is also shown rebelling against her parents, lying and sneaking out, much like what many teenagers do. Like most Disney movies, "Turning Red" is also a coming-of-age story with a great character arc. In Mei Lee's case, she's a 2nd generation Chinese American girl and is seen coming to terms with cultural norms while finding herself and her voice. Many therapists believe the movie will justify the angst and rebellious energy of teens that families tend to control and punish. Judith Smetana, a psychologist at the University of Rochester who studies the relationships between parents and adolescents, said the film was a great opportunity to discuss these issues at home. Smetana said "Turning Red" provides “a really good representation of adolescent-parent relationships and adolescent development," reported New York Times.


In the film, when the teenager first turns into a red panda, she hides in the bathroom and her mother anticipating she has periods, gets her menstrual pads. Therapists believe the scene is a great way for parents to start the conversation on periods with their children. “Of all the things parents have to be concerned about when it comes to raising children, a normal body function like menstruation should not be one of them,” said Elizabeth Schroeder, a New York-based sex educator. “There is so much shame wrapped up in how bodies work when instead we should be celebrating them.” Normalizing menstruation helps girls become more confident through their teen years and not associate shame with having periods.



Jenny Wang, a psychologist based in Texas, said, “The reality is that our children are exposed to these themes, to a certain extent, with or without our control.” Dr. Wang added that the movie provides a window of opportunity for parents to discuss such topics at home. With the lead character playing a 2nd generation Chinese American girl, the movie also touches upon her dilemma between expressing herself and being the conservative daughter. 


“I loved 'Turning Red' because of the nuanced approach to the mother-daughter relationships across generations in the Lee Family," Jocelyn Lam, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, told Upworthy. "Mei-Lin grapples with saving face and being a ‘loyal’ daughter to her family, versus embracing a more messy side to her personality and a broader range of emotions, which is a common struggle that 2nd generation Chinese teens experience.”



The movie resonated with Lisa Ibekwe, a licensed clinical social worker and first-generation American. “'Turning Red' was a phenomenal depiction of the thin line between culture and intergenerational trauma. It represents how culture heavily influences what we pass down to our children. Many children in general struggle to express their wants and desires to adults, and it’s even harder when there is a cultural gap between their desires and the expectations,” said Ibekwe. Disney does a great job in sensitively portraying adolescence and menstruation through the new film. There'll be so many preteens and teens that see themselves in the lead character and realize what they are going through is normal and that is a huge win. 

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